With their debut album out on Claude VonStroke's label today, we talk inspirations and aspirations with the Brooklyn-based duo
New Yorkers Sam Walker and Gavin Royce have made quite an impression on the worldwide house scene since coming together as Walker & Royce in 2011.
Damian Lazarus picked up one of their earliest productions, You're Not Welcome, for Crosstown Rebels, and before long they were racking up a string of releases on some of the most respected underground labels around, including OFF Recordings, W&O Street Tracks, Pets, Moda Black, Nurvous, Resonance Records and the mighty Relief.
More recently, they've pinned their colours to the dirtybird mast. Claude VonStroke booked them for the first Dirtybird Campout in 2015 and released their single Boy the following year, propelling them into the mainstream US consciousness. dirtybird has always operated, of course, on the quirkier, more leftfield fringes of the house arena, so Walker & Royce's indie-tinged take on club music is definitely a good fit. Which is no doubt why the label is now releasing their debut album!
Out today, Self Help takes in a range of tempos and leans heavily on featured vocalists, as the Brooklyn-based pair show there's more to them than just straight-up dancefloor cuts. We grabbed them for a chat to find out more…
Six years in as a duo, and a debut album on the way… quite a landmark! Thoughts and feelings?
Sam: "To be totally honest we didn't really think we'd even get to doing an album yet! We're really happy that Claude VonStroke encouraged us to do it, though. Looking back on it, we should have done it a while ago!"
Gavin: "We are equally excited and nervous about it. So far the reaction has been great, so we are confident... however it's still a album. It's sort of surreal that we are releasing a entire album. But it's cool to look back at what we have come through to get here.
What should people expect from the album… any surprises compared to your previous single/EP output?
Sam: "Mainly that we've gone out of our way to try and have a lot of featured vocals and do things that aren't all necessarily trying to be club bangers, try to make some more musical or off-genre songs."
Gavin: "We wanted to make a album that's not just for the club. We want people to listen from start to finish."
In fact, how do you describe your sound generally? There's a strong house/techno basis but it's a bit 'more' than that, isn't it?
W&R: "We like to use sustained choir pads and have little synth hits all over the place, a lot of ear-candy, and we try to use sounds that jump out of the speakers a bit. And we try to use vocals in weird ways at the same time as using them normally. It's a little silly on purpose - we try to keep it fun!"
On that note, who've been some of your biggest influences outside the worlds of house and techno?
Gavin: "I've been a huge Prince fan since I was very young. I also love Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis, who worked a lot with Prince and Janet Jackson, and were also in The Time with Morris Day. It's all funky 80s disco and R&B."
Sam: "Outside of electronic music it's probably that I played the trombone, so I like the sound of low brass... which comes through subconsciously in these honking/buzzing synth sounds that you hear in a lot of our stuff."
The album's on dirtybird… how did you come to hook up with them initially?
Sam: "Justin Martin and J Phlip were playing our music; also we have records on Pets Recordings which is our friends Catz n Dogz' label. Claude VonStroke heard Justin Martin playing one of our remixes and he wanted it. From there he had us sending him music and the relationship took off!"
Gavin: "Yeah, Justin was an early supporter of us and he played our remix of 12 Stories' Bright Lights to Claude VonStroke. That lead to our first EP with dirtybird."
And with Green Velvet, who features on recent single and album track Rub Anotha Dub?
W&R: "I think the first time we met Green Velvet was at a Get Real party. He's such a larger-than-life character, but once you get to know him, he's the most personal and genuine guy. We have two records with Relief, our Peep This Cat EP and a collab we did with Will Clarke, 3 4 Shake It. So we've known GV for a minute and wanted to work on something with him for a while, and the album came together and we were able to get together and we came up with Rub Anotha Dub!"
The album's called Self Help. Any particular story behind choosing that as a title?
W&R: "A few reasons. It's poking fun at 'self help' as a marketing scheme. It refers to us pushing on through when there's no clear path forward. It's about how music can be a form of therapy. And it's about how when we don't hear what we want to play in the musical marketplace, we write it ourselves."
Tell us about how you work in the studio - who does what, generally?
W&R: "Sam is more the hands-on producer/engineer while Gavin is more 'the DJ'. We aren't always in the studio together, but that is what makes it work. Gavin acts as a set of fresh ears and vision for what works on the dance loor. Sam is a very details-oriented guy and Gavin trusts him completely when it comes to production."
dirtybird, Moda Black, Crosstown Rebels, Relief, Nurvous… your 'Top Labels Bingo' card is looking pretty full! Were you never tempted to go down the 'own label' route, though?
W&R: "We have been very tempted, and we don't want to rule it out - it's definitely something we talk about from time to time. However, we wanted to grow as artists within a label first, we wanted to have that support and community. That's exactly what we have found with dirtybird."
Finally, what else is going on in Walker & Royce's world right now that iDJ readers need to know about?
W&R: "Along with the album which is out on 20 October, we are on our Self Help tour through the end of the year!"
Words: Russell Deeks
Self Help is out now on Dirtybird. Order it here